Talk show host veterans Stephen Colbert (pictured left) and Bill Maher (right), both very much of the political left, serve as a kind of microcosm for the Democratic Party of today. Colbert represents the ultra-progressive wing, having fully embraced the woke doctrine. While Maher embodies the classical liberal of yesteryear, making time for common sense and holding a healthy skepticism of the latest trends related to transgenderism and the like. Photo credit: CBS/Scott Kowalchyk and HBO/Janet Van Ham
A recent and developing divide on the progressive side of the political aisle deserves some attention. Two of the most well-known liberal talk show hosts on television provide proof that the Democratic Party, like its rival, the Republican Party, possesses a widening breach in its ample backside.
Stephen Colbert, host of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS since 2015, represents the progressive wing of the Democratic Party on almost every imaginable issue. Colbert, a self-professed Roman Catholic who used to teach Sunday School, also serves as an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church Monastery. Since his rise to stardom as host of The Colbert Report (2005—2014), his schtick usually involves embarrassing Republican politicians and satirically pointing out the hypocrisy of their actions or ideas.
His ascension to David Letterman’s seat on CBS could have turned him into an equal opportunity scoffer of both sides, considering the obvious fact that both conservatives and liberals watch late-night TV. Instead, Colbert doubled down and turned his show into a bastion of left-wing mockery of any Republican, climaxing with the election of Donald Trump and unsown fields of satire for the former actor. Whereas Johnny Carson in a previous age targeted the power brokers from both parties, Colbert became an advocate for one political point of view, one political philosophy, and one political party.
Meanwhile, starting on Comedy Central in 1993 and continuing on ABC in 1997, Bill Maher hosted his own show, Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. Maher always strove to place his principles above an audience or advertising dollars. While Colbert plays to the left wing of his party, Maher, a self-professed liberal and lapsed Roman Catholic, prefers to burst balloons on both sides where appropriate, but usually from the left, at least in the early years. Maher would tackle issues using a panel of people on his show. He would invite conservatives and sometimes agree with them because their arguments were better, but he preferred to side with the liberal cause.
When his show on ABC wrapped up in 2002, Maher stood in the mainstream of Democratic politics, supporting things like the war on terror, but mostly standing up for free speech. Over the two decades since, Maher has maintained his principles while the liberal left has transformed itself into a progressive, even Marxist movement, advocating for a wholesale upending of traditional gender identities, the embracing of critical race theory, and the surrender of merit-based mobility to diversity, equity, and inclusivity initiatives that reward or discriminate depending on ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or colour.
Maher objected vigorously to the illiberal censoring or canceling of individuals, ideas, and words. As a proponent of free speech, Maher grew weary of progressives who wanted to steal a page from Orwell and replace accepted speech practices with codes and restrictions that only reduced freedom and empowered thugs who sought to control minds. Whereas Colbert wrenched his thinking into this new paradigm, Maher began to speak out against it.
Maher remains very liberal and supports most leftist policies. He does, however, surprise some with his viewpoints and has grown increasingly critical of woke politics. Recently, Maher spoke to this with great conviction, observing “It’s one thing for language to change organically, which it should and does, and you can’t stop it,” Maher said. “You know, most of Shakespeare is indecipherable because it’s 400 years old. We don’t use those words anymore. And the dictionary every year puts out an edition with ‘these are new words.’ But there are new words because people just organically started using new words. It’s not like the dictionary says, ‘here’s a bunch of words we’re commanding you to use now.’”
“That’s what’s going on now,” Maher continued. “There’s an order that comes from a small group of people, we don’t know who they are, we can’t ask. It comes from on high. And they’re saying, ‘you need to say Latinx now,’ and you need to say, you know, ‘person experiencing homelessness.’ And I feel like this is why woke becomes a joke because you’d rather rename it than solve it.”
While he predicted Donald Trump’s refusal to accept election results and interrupt the transfer to power prior to the 2020 election, he also spoke skeptically about the story many in the media, academia, and government were using to explain how the pandemic began. Maher seemed to believe that the virus leaked from one of the two virology labs located in Wuhan, China.
In contrast, Colbert has belittled this theory on a recent show, suggesting the Department of Energy, which had released a report indicating that the virus likely came from a lab leak in Wuhan, “should stay in their lane.” Conservative Twitter heavily criticized Colbert, but this is a fraction of the causes Colbert has aligned himself with as the Democratic Party veered left.
He was an early supporter of transgender rights including the use of bathrooms, he seared the Supreme Court Justices who voted to send abortion back to the states, saying in his monologue of May 3, 2022, “So congratulations, ladies. Decisions about what you can do with your body are now being made by four old dudes and a woman who thinks The Handmaid’s Tale is a rom-com.” For Colbert, no cause is too liberal, no law too progressive, and no candidate too left.
Maher shows more nimbleness, taking on the transgender movement from a common sense angle. He asks, referring to the increase in kids identifying as transgender, “What are the odds of that happening in Youngstown, Ohio? If this spike in trans children is all-natural, why is it regional? Either Ohio is shaming them, or California is creating them. If we can’t admit that in certain enclaves there is some level of trendiness to the idea of being anything other than straight, then this is not a serious science-based discussion. It’s a blow being struck in the culture wars using children as cannon fodder.”
Maher did not stop there with his critical analysis of what this movement to reassign genders has authored. He offered this query, “I don’t understand parents who won’t let their nine-year-old walk to the corner without a helmet, an Epipen, and a GPS tracker — and God forbid their lips touch dairy — but hormone blockers and genital surgery? Fine.”
Maher closed with this morsel of wisdom that should be obvious yet seems to have been lost in the rush to be woke, “They’re kids, it’s all phases. The dinosaur phase, the Hello Kitty phase… genderfluid? Kids are fluid about everything. If kids knew what they wanted to be at age eight, the world would be filled with cowboys and princesses. I wanted to be a pirate. Thank God nobody took me seriously and scheduled me for eye removal and peg-leg surgery.”
Maher and Colbert do not reflect all the division and do not represent the different strata at work in the Democratic Party, but Maher does mirror many on the left who remain where they have always been philosophically while their party has abandoned them for a leftward shift that leaves them wondering if they still have a home in the party of their youth.
Dave Redekop is a retired elementary resource teacher who now works part-time at the St. Catharines Courthouse as a Registrar. He has worked on political campaigns since high school and attended university in South Carolina for five years, where he earned a Master’s in American History with a specialization in Civil Rights. Dave loves reading biographies.